Are the days of mobile sales teams numbered?
Something you hear these days is that the job of on-the-road selling is on the way out. Inefficient, costly, no longer appropriate for selling into today’s hi-tech environment and the realities of the current marketplace, is the travelling salesman really doomed to extinction? Don’t speak too soon!
That assumption could be simplistic, as it supposes that the configuration that suits the types of sales organisations cruising along nicely in some areas (software, for example, such as SaaS, or online services…) are suited to all business profiles. Above all, this kind of one-size-fits-all statement dares to suggest that face-to-face meetings between a sales rep and their customer no longer have any value. This is clearly an important consideration: in B2B whether you are selling machine tools, agri-food products, consultancy or industrial cleaning services, appointments with customers are still pivotal moments when clinching the deal, and cementing a relationship with the end customer. Whatever people will say about this, and whatever the business, no major contract is ever concluded without contractors and customers meeting face-to-face.
So forget about writing off these precious moments of personal contact, in the belief that from now on you can do it all over the telephone: rather, you should be focussing on how to exploit the scope and efficiency of these unique opportunities when seller and customer come face to face. Here are three avenues of enquiry to consider seriously if you want to make the most of your customer contact and the efficiency of your sales force overall.
Offload the task of commercial prospection
Putting in place a desk-based sales force is the current trend. This means sales and marketing staff can focus on the real business of selling. Office-based prospection teams can indeed take on the vital – but time consuming – tasks of systematically seeking out and qualifying sales leads. To do this, they depend on finding things out online (looking at the web sites of target customers, professional social networks to identify the right contacts) as well as looking at contacts uploaded via the company web site (requests for information or documentation downloads) and marketing campaigns or operations (exhibitions, mailshots). Their mission is to identify prospects that are potentially serious ones in amongst the numerous contacts and possible purchasers they come across (those with a project, or strong potential) and to book that first appointment with them.
Each appointment made by the prospection team is assigned to a sales person with a profile that fits the prospect category (in terms of company size, project type and geographic sector…). Relieved of the task of pure prospection, each sales person is then in theory able to take on a higher number of prospects/customers. This type of organisation allows you among other things to better balance portfolios between sales team members.
Let’s be aware, nonetheless, that while the first contact between the sales person and the prospect is more often than not by telephone, it is important the assignment takes the geographic dimension into account. Even if your sales force is not structured around a territory sectorization, taking the location of the prospect in relation to the geographic allocation of the sales person (including their domicile and agency of affiliation) will be vital to future logistics and the visits that may have to be undertaken on the ground.
Optimizing appointment making with customers
In even the recent past, the older style of sales operation allowed each sales person to manage their own time. It sounds good, but in reality of course, there was never enough time with all the jobs that needed to be done to do just that. Of these many tasks, scheduling and handling customer appointments is one of the most time-consuming and stressful bits of the job, requiring patience and attention to detail as what with cancellations, urgent and postponed appointments, the other tasks are constantly being ambushed or side-lined – and that target revenue figure to be achieved is ever further out of reach…
Without depriving your sales staff of the autonomy they are so attached to, what you can do is to significantly increase their productivity by giving them tools to optimize appointment taking and administer their mobility. While most CRM and other sales force automation solutions (SFA) do feature some scheduling and agenda management tools, what they lack is the ability to take geographic criteria into account when optimizing appointment schedules with customers, and importantly the reduction of travel times and dead times between appointments this can produce. Our scheduling tools, integrated within Salesforce, allow the salesperson to suggest best dates and earliest dates to customers on the spot as a function of appointments that have already been scheduled, of their geographic location, specific constraints (opening times, accessibility, journey times depending on the time of day…) and other parameters such as appointment type (first visit, signature, tracking…).
Measuring the true cost of mobility
Despite the proliferation of tools allowing you to track and retrace the daily activity of mobile resources, most sales organisations have difficulty measuring the true effectiveness of their mobile force. Whether your staff are managing the sales process end-to-end (old style) or whether they are specialised in only one stage of the process (seeking out new prospects, transformation, development) do you really know the exact cost of their mobility? Are you able to quantify, over and above salary, all the elements that really count, and that represent real costs to include in the calculation – these, of course, being the ones you will be able to optimize: how many appointments, how many miles travelled, how much time spent on the road, how many nights spent in hotels, the price of fuel…. Without this information you can’t measure profitability effectively, and more importantly, won’t be able to improve on it. The same goes for your evaluation: for it to be correct, you will need to take an objective look at your customers’ satisfaction indicators, the rate of turnover of staff in your teams, the length of your recruitment cycles…
Looking at this another way, before you even start going down the road of wondering whether the days of the mobile resource are numbered, and inflicting real damage by opting to restructure your organisation at its core, unpack your data and give it some scrutiny so you can make a proper diagnosis and take the right decisions. It’s the only way to be sure you’ve got it right: it will mean you can navigate the path between making the best of the current situation while considering your options as regards any ‘big bang’ restructuring drive.